'Save the Last Dance' shows off No. 1 moves

— A desert island gave way to a crowded dance floor as the hip-hop flick "Save the Last Dance" bumped "Cast Away" from the top spot at the movie box office.

"Save the Last Dance," starring Julia Stiles as an aspiring ballerina and Sean Patrick Thomas as her hip-hop dancing boyfriend, took in $24 million in its opening weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

That was a record debut for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, beating the previous mark of $15.2 million for "Varsity Blues" in 1999.

"Cast Away," the No. 1 film the previous three weekends, slipped to second place with $17.1 million. The movie, which stars Tom Hanks as a man stranded on an island, has taken in $165.1 million in just over three weeks and passed "Meet the Parents" to become the fifth-highest-grossing movie released in 2000.

"Save the Last Dance" was produced by Paramount in association with MTV and was heavily promoted on the music channel.

The movie's audience was 78 percent female and mostly younger than 21, according to Paramount. Playing in 2,230 cinemas, the movie averaged an impressive $10,762 a cinema.

Overall, the top 12 movies grossed $127.6 million, up 52 percent from the same weekend last year. It was the 14th straight weekend that Hollywood revenues were up after a long period of decline last summer and fall.

"It shows you the cyclical nature of the business," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "We're at a point so different from just three months ago, when the death knell was being tolled for the movie industry."

Several movies that opened in limited runs last month for awards consideration expanded to wider release.

"Thirteen Days," a drama about the Cuban missile crisis, and "Finding Forrester," with Sean Connery as a reclusive novelist, both expanded to about 2,000 theaters and took in about $10.2 million each.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" moved to 693 cinemas, up by 521, and grossed $8.2 million.

The Coen brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" moved into 431 theaters, up from 266, and grossed $2.6 million. David Mamet's madcap Hollywood satire "State and Main" expanded from 77 theaters to 459, taking in $1.5 million.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters:

1. "Save the Last Dance," $24 million.

2. "Cast Away," $17.1 million.

3. "Traffic," $11.2 million.

4. "What Women Want," $10.5 million.

5. "Thirteen Days," $10.23 million.

6. "Finding Forrester," $10.2 million.

7. "Double Take," $10 million.

8. "Miss Congeniality," $9.4 million.

9. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," $8.2 million.

10. "The Family Man," $5.9 million.


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